BULLETIN: Illinois Senate bucks uniform speed veto; House votes soon

| 10/3/2007

Wednesday, Oct. 3 – An effort that could bring an end to split speed limits in Illinois is just one step away from becoming reality.

The Illinois Senate, meeting in a veto session, voted 39-10 Tuesday, Oct. 2, to override Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s veto of a bill that would eliminate the provision in state law that set up slower speed limits on rural interstates for vehicles weighing more than 8,000 pounds. Currently, those vehicles are required to travel 10 mph below the 65 mph speed limit for other vehicles.

The bill – SB540 – now moves to the House for consideration as early as Oct. 10. This spring, representatives voted 90-22 to eliminate the speed differential. At least 71 lawmakers in the chamber would need to vote in favor of the bill for it to become law.

Sponsored by Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville, the bill would allow the Illinois Department of Transportation to increase large truck speeds to as much as 65 mph.

This spring marked the third time in recent years that House and Senate lawmakers sent a uniform speed limit bill to Blagojevich. As was the case with the previous efforts, the margin of support in both chambers was more than the three-fifths majority needed for a veto override. Previously, enough legislators switched their votes to uphold the governor’s veto.

In his latest veto message, the governor made it clear he doesn’t want trucks traveling at higher rates of speed.

“This bill compromises safety by allowing trucks to travel at higher speeds. I remain opposed to increasing the speed limit to 65 miles per hour for large trucks,” Blagojevich wrote.

Supporters of the bill cite federal statistics showing that split speed limits actually lead to more accidents.

Rep. Robert Flider, D-Decatur, the bill’s House sponsor, cited those concerns as reasoning for taking up the effort.

“Studies have shown that uniform speed limits are safer in many instances. There are occurrences of a car driver coming upon a truck and suddenly realizing that truck is driving a lot slower. That can create some challenges on a busy highway,” Flider said. “It seems to me, and I think studies have concluded, uniform speed limits actually would be safer as long as everybody follows the speed limit.”

State transportation officials are unmoved by such information. They have called on legislators to uphold the governor’s veto of the bill. They refer to data from the Illinois DOT that shows nearly 140 people died in truck-related crashes in the state a year ago, The Southern Illinoisan reported. That number is down from an average of about 177 people who have been killed in truck-related crashes on roadways in the state in each of the past 10 years.

In the days leading up to the veto session, Blagojevich has enlisted the help of groups such as AAA Chicago to voice opposition to any override attempt.

Advocates for uniform speeds say the recent moves by opponents of the bill to try and sway lawmakers to switch their votes is not unexpected.

Todd Spencer, executive vice president for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, said history on the issue indicates that information offered to lawmakers to change their support will be something for advocates of uniform speeds to contend with.

“We know what to expect. The governor’s office and (those in favor of split speeds) will be sending letters or op/ed pieces to local newspapers talking about how terrible it would be for this bill to become law,” Spencer said.

“That is simply rhetoric that has no basis in reality. The state should create a uniform speed limit. In this instance, the bill would increase permissible speeds for trucks on the safest highways in the state. It encourages them to use those roads as opposed to other roads.”

The special session is scheduled to run through Oct. 12.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Illinois in 2007, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor